A tattoo on a young woman’s shoulder which she had done to honor her beloved departed grandmother ended up saving her life.
When Gemma Olson was 6, her parents were killed in a car accident and she was left in the care of her mother’s mom, Carina Antonelli. Mrs. Antonelli wasn’t in the best of health and had, in fact, been forced to retire young, but she accepted the new responsibility.
Mrs. Antonelli wasn’t wealthy, but she got by, and there was a little money from Gemma’s parents which she put away for her granddaughter’s education. Mrs. Antonelli was determined to give Gemma a happy childhood despite the tragedy, and she succeeded.
Mrs. Antonelli and Gemma were like peas in a pod, as far as their characters and temperament went, and they understood each other perfectly. But while gran was dark-haired and dark-eyed, Gemma was a blue-eyed blond like her dad.
The two were closer than mother and daughter, closer than best friends because they knew they were all the other had in this world. The only shadow on their happiness was Mrs. Antonelli’s health which only got worse as the years went by.
By the time Gemma was 20, Mrs. Antonelli was very ill. The doctors explained to Gemma that her grandmother suffered from a degenerative disease and that at this stage of her life there was little they could do except make her last days as comfortable as possible.
Knowing that their time was short, Gemma took a break from college and spent every waking moment with her grandmother. Mrs. Antonelli clung to her grandaughter’s hands at the last moments and gave her one last sweet smile. Then her eyes closed, and Gemma knew she was alone in the world.
As long as we remember our loved ones we are never alone.
The funeral was agony for Gemma who felt forced to smile at the endless line of people who came to say goodbye to her grandmother. All she wanted to do was scream, and cry. She wanted to be alone with her memories, to remember every detail, to make sure she’d never forget.
That night, she turned on the radio to kill the silence of her gran’s absence, sat on the floor of their living room, and opened the family albums. One by one she looked at all the snaps of her childhood, especially the ones in which she was with her gran. There was one in particular that she loved, a photo taken by a friend.
In the snap, Mrs. Antonelli and Gemma were nose-to-nose, looking at each other and smiling, and even though their coloring was so different, they looked like mirror images.
Gemma smiled. “Oh, gran, I wish we could have stayed like that forever!” And then something strange happened. She caught a bit of the lyrics of the song that was playing, something about a man tattooing a girl’s name.
“That’s forever, she said…That’s forever, she said…That’s forever!” sang the man on the radio.
“Forever!” whispered Gemma looking at the photo in her hands. The next day she walked into a tattoo parlor and asked to have the photo reproduced on her shoulder. Now she would have that precious, perfect moment with her grandmother with her forever.
Gemma went back to college, and then found herself a good job, but a few years later, things started going wrong. Her health wasn’t what it should be and when she finally went to the doctor, he had bad news for her.
“Miss Olson, I’m afraid you suffer from a degenerative condition that usually runs in families,” he said. “Did anyone in your family have this disease?”
“My grandmother,” said Gemma. “But I thought…Well, I take after my father’s side…”
“I’m afraid you have it, but luckily, things have evolved a great deal,” he explained. “There is an operation, followed by gene therapy that should allow you to live a perfectly normal life.”
The doctor arranged for Gemma to be seen by the premier specialist in her disease so she could start treatment as soon as possible. Gemma called her insurance and asked about the coverage and they said they’d get back to her.
So Gemma went to her appointment with the specialist, and while she was sitting in the examination room in one of those awful gowns without backs waiting for him, the phone rang.
“Miss Olson, we regret to inform you that your medical insurance does not cover preexisting conditions,” said the woman from the insurance company. “And since your disease is genetic you already had it when you signed on with us.”
Gemma hung up the phone with tears in her eyes just as the doctor walked into the examination room. “Miss Olson?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Gemma. “But I don’t want to waste your time. I can’t afford the surgery or the treatments. My insurance company just told me they won’t pay for it.”
But something odd was happening. The doctor was staring at Gemma’s shoulder, which the flimsy paper gown left bare. “That tattoo…” he gasped. “Is that Mrs. Antonelli?”
Gemma was astounded. “Yes! She was my grandmother. That’s a portrait of when she was young and I was a baby…”
“Miss Olson, Mrs. Antonelly was my teacher,” the doctor was smiling and he had tears in his eyes. “I had a speech impediment and everyone thought I was stupid, but not Mrs. Antonelli. She told me I could do anything, be anything…”
Gemma was smiling. “Yes, that sounds like my grandmother!”
“Well, Miss Olson, you will be getting your surgery and your therapy for free,” the doctor said. “I owe your grandmother everything, the least I can do is save your life!”
Gemma’s grandmother’s loving-kindness extended from beyond the grave and gave her granddaughter one last gift.
What can we learn from this story?
As long as we remember our loved ones we are never alone. Gemma’s memory of her grandmother gave her happiness.
Kindness lives on long after we are gone. Even though Gemma’s grandmother was dead, her kindness which had changed the doctor’s life ended up saving her grandchild.